Artists to watch | Tomokazu Matsuyama

I’m not usually a big fan of street art, but I had to make an exception for the Brooklyn-based Japanese artist Tomokazu Matsuyama . I recently discovered his work at @kavigupta ’s group show “Realms of Refuge”, where Matsuyama’s dazzling portraits starred alongside other exciting artists like @chambersdominic and @DevanShimoyama . “Realms of Refuge” might be the most interesting show I’ve seen all summer, and Matsuyama’s work was a big reason why. Matsuyama has also made several public commissions, including a monumental sculpture at Tokyo’s JR Shinjuku Station and an enthralling mural on the Bowery in New York City.

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When I first saw Matsuyama’s work, I immediately thought of artists like @takashipom and @KAWS . But as I spent time with the work, I learned that Matsuyama draws his inspiration from a wide range of subjects, including Japanese art from the Edo and Meiji eras, French Renaissance painting, and postwar American art. This incredible variety gives the work a deep art historical grounding to complement its street-art aesthetic.

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Matsuyama describes his practice as “the struggle of reckoning the familiar local with the familiar global.” I really loved this quote because it references two of my favorite themes: cultural identity and pop-imagery. Many of my favorite contemporary artists, such as @NjidekaAkunyiliCrosby , similarly explore these themes – but from an African American perspective. Both Matsuyama and Crosby negotiate their dual identities, balancing their cultural past with their present lives in the United States. To see an Asian-American artist working with the same ideas is so fascinating, especially given how Matsuyama’s Asian identity is reflected so clearly in the work.

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Matsuyama’s work is all about tension: between East and West; past and present; traditional painting and street art. One detail I love which embodies this tension is Matsuyama’s shaped canvases: the curved canvas echoes the legacy of American Minimalism (think #EllsworthKelly ) while also referencing the history of shaped Japanese tea platters.

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